Feb 04, 2009

TED Day 1: Linked Data, Polluted Oceans, and Real World vs. Porn

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This is my first year attending the TED conference, but Maria has been coming for many years so she’s been a great tour guide. There were a bunch of pre-conference events yesterday, but today was the official Day 1. We’ve just spent the last 10 hours or so listening to people like Tim Berners-Lee, Bill Gates, and Al Gore talk about the future of the web, the future of education, and the future of the planet. I’m feeling awed and inspired. I’m also feeling like a serious under-achiever.

Berners-Lee’s talk started with a short history of why he invented the Internet. Basically he was frustrated with having to find documents that lived in different places. So he created a network with hypertext links and told everyone to put their documents online. We did. Now he says he’s frustrated again. We can access each other’s documents, but we can’t access each other’s data. Not easily, anyway.

Here’s a mundane example that we’ve kicked around at Hot:

Several of us have young kids and we like to take them to do fun kid stuff on the weekends. Why is it so hard to find out what’s going on this Sunday? I usually start with a Google search but end up having to sift through various museum sites, parks and rec sites, the Berkeley Parents Network announcements, etc. It’s time-consuming.

Then you take a much bigger problem, like understanding global warming, which requires data from many different disciplines and sources: data from physics, climatology, biology, chemistry, etc. Anyone trying to make meaning from this information has to dig around in all kinds white papers, reports, and other documents that come from different government agencies, non-profits, and other organizations.

How do we make meaning from all this information? People usually talk about this problem under the umbrella of the “semantic web” but Berners-Lee never used that term in his talk today. Instead he talked about “Linked Data.”

Graphic that shows "data" growing under ground, which produces beautiful and sweet smelling flowers (meaning).

Graphic that shows "data" growing under ground, which produces beautiful and sweet smelling flowers (meaning).

He showed this graphic of what looks like boxes (data storage) growing underground. Above ground are the flowers–this is the meaning we make from the raw information. When you can connect data, you have enormous power to understand problems and unlock solutions.

A couple sites to check out: dbpedia.org which is a community effort to pull data from wikipedia, and openstreetmap.com where you can share your local geographical data within a map format.

Some other highlights from today:

Bill Gates is a star. I don’t care what anyone says. He’s given more money away than other human being on the planet to improve global health and education. He didn’t even get offended when Chris Anderson pulled out his Mac laptop (although the site of them sitting side by side got a big laugh from the audience). I should have taken a picture but at the time I was trying to respect the “no photos” rule.

We all got to dance with the YouTube star Matt Harding.

Update from Al Gore on global warming (it’s not looking good). Plus sneak peeks from two upcoming films on the environment. One is about the oceans by Jacque Perrin who did Winged Migration, the breathtaking documentary about birds. The other is by the photographer Yann Arthus-Bertrand, whose stunning aerial photos show human impact on the planet.

A theme of this TED is “unveiling.” One of the new websites unveiled today was www.makelovenotporn.com which aims to debunk myths from the porn world. So if you want to learn about sex in the real world, as opposed to the porn world, this is your source.

Line to men's bathroom. The women's line only had 3 people!

Line to men's bathroom. The women's line only had 3 people!

Bathroom lines: while TED has made efforts to make the conference more diverse, there are still more men attending than women. But there is an upside to this–the men’s bathroom has had much longer lines than the women’s bathroom. This is such a rare occurance that I had to take a picture.

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3 comments

Kathy's picture

That last photo is classic. Whenever I go to an engineering conference I experience the exact same thing, and each time I feel blessed to be a female engineer!

Katrina Alcorn's picture

It's Maria, but contrary to appearances, she is not trying to get into the men's bathroom, she's just talking to a friend.

Henrik Olsen's picture

On the last photo, who is that woman waiting in line for the men's bathroom?

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